Back from Siberian exile

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Liz Williams
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 01:48 am:   

So, I am back, to find Britain sweltering in a heatwave. Ick! Siberia was, by contrast, pleasantly cool. I'll be doing a trip report over the next few days for those who are interested (and Jeff, there will hopefully be some new Alien Baby photos), but for now, here's the abbreviated Bridget Jones-type version:

Weather: see above. Pleasantly cool, with a little rain, several storms, and a couple of very hot days.

Food: 95% excellent, 5% inedible.

Airlines: Aeroflot's food now on a par with that of BA - a change for anyone who remembers, with masochistic nostalgia, the days when the Russian air fleet's meals consisted of a gherkin and a cup (not necessarily with anything to fill it). The staff have ceased to be bracingly abusive, and are now charming. Big deco Ilyushin (with staircase) much more fun than Western planes. Safety record still lamentable, though.

People: lovely.

Accommodation: pretty good, mainly homestays with Siberia's up and coming tourist industry. The one hotel we stayed in was OK, but with paper thin walls and one lavatory for 20 people. Which leads me to:

Sanitation: Just...just...let's not go there, OK?

Scenery: unbelievably spectacular. Glaciers, mountains, lots of big rivers (note: this is the Altai republic, not the bulk of Siberia, which is pancake flat and composed mainly of taiga).

Towns: Novosibirsk and Akademgorod pleasant in that universal Soviet identikit way.
Moscow aparently looks a lot better than it did, due to mucho Mafiya roubles being re-directed onto a city centre makeover. Kremlin spectacular.

That's the basics. On other levels:

Curses revealed: 1. More on this later, since the cursee was me.

Curses lifted: 1. Also me. Woohoo! Incantation-free at last.

Cases of spiritual conversion: 1 (not me)

Cases of possible mercury poisoning: 1 (also not me, thank God).

People met: shamans: 2
Presidents: 1
Mediums: 1
Artists: 2
4000 year old mummified aristocrats: 1
Cats: lots

Instances of inebriation: 0, surprisingly.

Arrests: 0, but arguments with officials: 4 (not me).

Cases of heatstroke: 1 (and nearly myself and Deirdre, due to an ill-positioned stove).

More later. It's good to be back.

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Jay Caselberg
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 05:06 am:   

Okay, that sort of stuff, you just have to fill in more details...

Still say you're mad.
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Liz Williams
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 05:21 am:   

Newsflash: "pot calls kettle black...!"

OK, so having risen at a preposterously early hour due to my body clock thinking it is 6 hours later than it actually is, here's the first bit of the trip report:

Saturday July 29th

So, a little background. This was a guided tour, on a bus, through the Siberian Altai, with a group of about 10 people, one of whom was my friend Deirdre Counihan, writer, illustrator and art editor of small press magazine Scheherazade. I should like to go on record and say that Deirdre was a great travelling companion, never complained despite considerable provocation - from events, sanitation and other people - and I would go anywhere else with her.

We had an uneventful flight out with BA and Aeroflot. The latter has improved immeasurably over the last few years, promoting as I said, fond masochistic nostalgia from anyone who remembers the pre-perestroika days of the Russian fleet. The plane itself was a big deco Ilyushin, with a staircase and futuristic lights. If only the safety record matched the style - but this pretty much sums up the Soviet Union. We flew into Moscow's new Domodedovo airport, which is still under construction - you're standing in the passport queue and suddenly a bloke walks past with a wheelbarrow. I distinguished myself by treading heavily on a Russian woman's foot in the baggage reclaim. She immediately went into sighing Slavic martyrdom and refused to accept an apology. Then we crossed town to Shermetevovo airport, which was equally chaotic but which has apparently been improved to the point where it now has a bar. Result!

Experience reveals that my Russian is now good enough to hold basic conversations with people and occasionally understand what they say in return. My ability to read the language is quite good, so I shall persevere with it and next time, may actually be able to discuss things properly.

After a fortunately uneventful flight (you don't want excitement on Aeroflot), we arrived in Novosibirsk ("City of Industrial Exhibitions!") early in the morning, and spent an hour or so waiting for the bags to emerge along a rusting conveyor belt, which eventually broke. The minibus designated to take us to various families also broke down. So for, so typichnye. Life in Soviet Central Asia some years before has granted me patience, at least, and rather low expectations.

Novosibirsk and its neighbouring town of Akademgorod, where we were staying, were identikit Soviet burgs: rows of decaying apartment blocks between scruffy parkland, but beautiful woods of birch and fir and pine. Vibe reminded me oddly of Tacoma - conifers and academics.

Four of us, including Deirdre and myself, stayed with a pleasant woman named Natasha in her apartment. This was a nice modern place, as is common these days in Russian apartment blocks - once one gets past the dark crumbling stairwells and the intimidating steel doors, the interiors are much the same as British flats, with obviously somewhat different décor. I have stayed in numerous post-Perestroika flats and lived in 4: Natasha's was typical. Divorced, she shares it with a gigantic cat called Timosha.

We flaked out for the morning, rising in the afternoon to visit the Nicholas Roerich museum. I knew very little about Roerich, and still don't know much, but his paintings are stunning: glowing, visionary work of the Himalayas and Siberian Altai. He seems to be in the Blavatsky tradition of Russian visionaries, combined with Indian mysticism, for which I do not have a lot of time. However, I intend to read up on NR a bit more, on the strength of his art.

We then found a café opposite Novosibirsk's very grand, chandeliered railway station and had lemon tea in the rain.

Monday 28th July.

Visited the Archaelogical Institute this morning, where the mummified body of the Ice Princess is kept - for those who don't know, she was buried in great state near the Mongolian border some 4000 years ago, and was probably a shaman or some kind of aristocrat. She was 28 or so when she died, with an armful of tattoos, and she was buried with all the accessories du jour that one could possibly want in the afterlife. Her skull was stuffed with moss, and the soft organs removed. Had the ice not swept down over her grave, she would not have been preserved at all: this was not the painstaking mummification practised by the Egyptians. I found myself staring down at her with the sense of detachment you get looking at the ancient dead: it seems curious that they ever walked and breathed. But she was buried in her full ceremonial dress and they are exhibiting her naked, which made me uneasy. Personally, I don't care what happens to my body after I leave it - they can stuff it and put it in the hallway like Jeremy Bentham's, for all I care, or conduct a public autopsy, but people's wishes should be followed and this woman was buried with care in a particular way. I suppose that in a country where so many have died, in so ghastly a fashion, the response to death is different.

The Princess' presence in Novosibirsk is controversial: the Altaic people want her back, and even if they get her, the wrangling won't stop. The shamanic end of the spectrum want her to be reburied, the bureaucrats want her in a museum in Gorno Altaisk. Personally, I'm for reburial. There is debate as to whether she was actually Altaic - they are an oriental people and reconstruction shows that she had Turkic features, but Deirdre (who is very knowledgeable about this area since she used to work in archaeology) said that this is open to interpretation and debate, and suspected a political agenda.

In the p.m. we went to the Sun Museum - this is a purely whimsical project dedicated to representations of the sun, ancient and modern. There was even a hot water bottle with a sun on it. A lovely room, filled with carvings. We had a gong recital which was, um, instrumentally challenging. On the way back we called in at a little school and had been there for an hour when we discovered that one of the party was missing. Horror and consternation. Search parties were dispatched and the missing person was eventually located, locked in the museum lavatory. Being half Swedish, she was very laid back about this ("Could have been worse").

And then back for another vast Siberian cream tea. The food was great throughout the trip, apart from a few dodgy hotel meals. A lot of home-made salads, jams, soups and scones. Spent the evening reading various varieties of the tarot and looking at Natasha's cat photos.

Tuesday 29th July.

Left Nov for the Altai this morning - mile upon mile of grassland interspersed with groves of birch and the occasional swamp. The only event of note was the grim aftermath of a car crash in a tiny, sleepy village - crumpled wrecks, people standing about in numb shock, a body beneath a blanket. Russian driving is dreadful. I'm not sure whether it's booze, the fact that a lot of people buy a driving license without the preliminary training, or just a different attitude toward risk. But the results are appalling.

Toward evening, the landscape became more hilly and then we reached the Katun river, which is the sacred river of the Altai Republic. Darkness fell. Finally reached the village of Chemal at about 10 p.m., with everyone hot, cramped and irritable. A member of the party got heatstroke in the banya and had to be forcibly revived.

Wednesday 30th July.

In day light, Chemal turned out to be enchanting - lots of little wooden houses in vaguely Alpine style, with huge gardens full of sunflowers and beans. Steep, pine-forested slopes rose up behind the village and the cemetery was full of cherry trees. There was a nice old cat and a highly excitable dog.

In the a.m. we took some stuff up to a little mountain school dedicated to the memory of artist Chornos Gurkin, who produced some very impressive Siberian landscapes and who was murdered by the NKVD in the 1940s, presumably for painting what he loved and admired as opposed to endless vistas of, say, rolling wheat fields and the latest tractor production factory. Since it was the holidays, the school was inhabited only by the principal and two bikini-clad Siberian lovelies, who turned out to be supply teachers.

The school was set in beautiful mountain meadows and there were vast plantations of cannabis by the roadside, common throughout the region. (We used to have a bed of it outside the flat in Almaty and it was useless: the best stuff was supposed to grow in the cemetery, which is worrying. Hope the same doesn't apply to the aforementioned cherries). We all got a bit stoned through breathing in.

Highlights of the day: two very dodgy rope suspension bridges, one of which led to a pretty modern convent on a tiny island. Teeth gritting vertigo ensued and halfway across I got something under one of my contact lenses, which always happens in perilous moments, and had to stop on the middle of a swaying plank several hundred feet over a torrent, and remove it. On the island were several rather sour young nuns and an allegedly weeping icon. Hmmm.

On our return we were greeted by the excitable dog, who was so pleased to see us that he rushed off and pissed all over a police car.

In the evening we went to what was supposed to be a folk concert - bad enough, except that we had to participate. I hate enforced jollity. Deirdre and I, squeezed into borrowed shapeless dirndl, went for a walk instead. I told someone that circle dancing was against my religion and since it was Lughnasadh, I was therefore unable to take part. This would perhaps have been more convincing had I not actually forgotten the date, and been reminded of it by the group leader. Returned to discover that group leader Jenny, another loather of jollity, had appropriated a bottle of Georgian chardonnay, which we drank, rather quickly.

Thursday 31st July

Left Chemal today and drove up to a little mountain village named Yst Khan. Scenery was spectacular - endless multi-coloured steppe, eidelweiss and gentian in the heights, eagles and buzzards swooping overhead. We stopped at a high pass, filled with birch trees wreathed with ceremonial rags, and snow-capped slopes in the distance.

Reached YK in the late afternoon and checked in at the hotel Dragon (1 toilet, 1 cold tap, 20 people. Time for rapid bonding with the other members of the party and much comparison of different brands of Wet Wipe). Then went to visit the local shaman, Maria, who lives in a little house overlooking the White Mountain, a rather startling cliff face of white quartz wherein yetis are supposed to live. Maria has an iyill in the back garden: this is (in her case) a ceremonial roundhouse in which she practices her particular tradition and sees clients. Most Altaic houses have one, and it's usually used as a kind of kitchen/spare room. Here, we had a talk on shamanism itself (details will follow) and Deirdre and I found a cat and 2 kittens in a box. More cat pictures!

An, ahem, more sensitive member of the group told Maria that she had left an offering at the birch tree pass ("My Guides told me to"). I'm not sure what she actually offered - I think it was a crystal. The shaman was horrified and informed her that this kind of thing can cause you to become actually unsouled. Who would have thought that tourism could be so spiritually hazardous?

After an afternoon in the smoky iyill, some of us went for a walk across the meadowland toward the White Mountain. Gorgeous flowers and herbs, but not-so-gorgeous amounts of discarded engine parts, plastic sheeting, bottles, and rusting machinery. It looked like the town dump and rather jibed with M's emphasis on the Altaic reverence for nature. Further investigation placed the blame at the door of the town's Russian population. I wondered whether they just threw stuff into the snow and hid it that way - YK is under snow for most of the year, after all. But it's still an unpleasant trait. Mosquitoes came out like a fleet of helicopters as the sun went down and bit me through a pair of tracksuit pants.

Friday 1st August

More shamanic visits this morning, this time to another local guy who runs a museum of shamanism. Interesting, though the sensitive person went straight into a past life experience, hand to brow, on stepping through the door. (Why do people who go in for this kind of thing assume that everyone else will be interested? I'm much more intrigued by the life I've got now and will, if it indeed turns out to be the case, be heading swiftly for the Cat Queue in Reincarnation Central upon my own demise. But no, they've all got to be shamans or witches or mystics. Suspect my own previous existences were as a long line of peasants.). Somehow, my own Guides came to my rescue in the form of Liz's Better Self, (overpowering my more usual evil twin) and I forbore from asking that, if she had really succeeded in de-souling herself, presumably this would be her last shot at karmic balance. (This was the second incident in a line of gradually simmering annoyances, eventually culminating in a huge row which, happily, I missed. After that, everyone got on fine).

This afternoon, we all had readings with Maria. She does this by asking you to hold a small bottle of spring water, into which she then peers. I gather from several people that her reading was fairly accurate, but in my case, it was pretty far off the mark - she told me that I had a daughter (no) and a husband (I'm a widow), which should really be basic info if one is clairvoyant. However, she was clearly a very sincere person (my dad's a stage magician and it's fairly difficult to put one over on me with this kind of thing). I gather that these matters are a bit like trying to tune a radio - sometimes you get the exact station you want, and sometimes you don't. In my case, not.

Anyway, I am supposed to get married in a year's time and have a baby. It must be said that neither event features large in the current Williams Five Year Plan and I was rather hoping for some indication that a spell in San Fransciso and/or Manhattan might be on the cards. Oh well. Let us see what the Stars have in Store. She did say that a man who works in a bank will be very helpful. Well, that makes a change!

Apparently my intended has one eye bigger than the other. Jesus. Apparently I'm about to be betrothed to a cyclops. (Could anyone who is unattached and male on Nightshade take a quick look in the mirror? And if the resultant ocular malformation is present, kindly stay out of my way…)

Then she told me that I'd been placed under a curse. Eek! This has never happened to me before. To be honest, I don't think it's happened now. Further investigation revealed that the curse had been placed by a member of Charles' family, after his death (good, because if I really thought that someone had precipitated his demise through Ye Dark Arts, all hell would be let loose). The description of the cursing person made little sense. I am assuming that in Altaic culture, this kind of thing happens, but it doesn't in Britain - the Brits just grumble a lot and if really pushed, take you to industrial tribunals. Such is the Way of my People. (OTOH, a friend of mine worked in an educational centre in Kuala Lumpur and his Malaysian colleagues were constantly whacking one another with incantations. It was quite acceptable to take sick leave because one happened to be suffering from some psychic attack on that particular day. So it's probably a cultural thing.)

Some days later, M removed the curse, which she did by placing me under hypnosis. That is to say, I stood with my eyes closed while she undertook various mystical passes (according to Deirdre). I did not feel hypnotised, but the room grew stiflingly hot and there was a very weird fluttering noise like a trapped bird, which Deirdre was unable to explain (nor did an outside investigation of the building shed any light on the matter). If pressed, I'd say that Maria does have some kind of power (there was other odd stuff as well), but in my case, I don't think it connected. Anyway, I am now ostensibly de-cursed, which can only be a good thing.

More later.

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Liz Williams
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 07:44 am:   

And the rest, while I can still remember it. Pics will be up on my website as soon as they get developed.

Saturday 2nd August

Picnic day today. Bus driver took the bus down an extremely long and bumpy track to a place in the forest where, apparently, a number of girls committed suicide by hurling themselves from the rocks into the white water of the gorge below. Shamans have different views to the rest of us as to what constitutes a nice spot for lunch. However, it was certainly extremely pretty and we spent the late part of the morning watching people undertake white water rafting. Having eaten the picnic, some of us went for a walk and ended up swimming in the non-white water bit of the river (arctic, but according to Maria, good for you). We returned to find that most of the rest of the party had whiled away the afternoon by having a row (over psychic exhibitionism, poor social skills and general angst - much like a convention, really). Group Meeting upon our return in which Deirdre stared out of the window and I uttered the sort of platitudes that have been honed over many years of workshops and pagan gatherings. Anyway, apologies were given, expressions of sincere regret offered, and the atmosphere improved from then on, particularly once it was discovered that the bar of the Dragon stayed open late and switched on the disco ball on Saturdays. Some of us went to Maria's instead and had a bath.

Sunday 3rd August

Moving on today, to a place named Tiongyr, via friends of Jenny's at a small place named Chendek. The friend in question went on holiday there, from Moscow, and never went back. Instead, she walked every day into the local town (a good ten miles away) to offer free legal aid to people who had been banged up in the local gulag for no reason, as usual. Now, she lives there with her son and they are gradually building little houses in the garden, for tourists. Absolutely lovely garden for which I would have killed. And internet access. Had lunch at a café that served chips, and did a ceremony with Maria. A butterfly sat on Deirdre's shoulder throughout the ceremony.

The place at Tiongyr was billed as a hotel, but once we got there we found that the hotel (a sort of mega-yurt with showers) was double booked and we were placed in a variety of accommodation. Deirdre, myself and 2 others copped a hunting lodge, which was a large hut with a little triangular outhouse at the back and no water. By this time, it was chilly and pouring with rain. The group mood soured yet further. Then a bloke appeared and offered to light the stove, which we gratefully accepted. We found the banya, which was about half a mile away (according to me) and the restaurant, which was excellent. Came back to a warm, dry little house. The group mood improved.

Woke up at about half midnight, sweltering. The entire room now resembled a sauna. Deirdre got up, saying that she felt extremely unwell, which was unsurprising since her bed was next to the stove. We moved the bed, aided by the other people in the house (who were extremely nice about the whole thing) and opened the door. Gradually, it cooled down but a fleet of mosquitoes floated in like bloodthirsty ghosts. This is where my mosquito net finally came into its own. Doused in wet towels and insect repellent, we eventually slept.

Monday 4th August

The weather improved. We went to a place some ten miles or so away, where there are a number of ancient stone heads. These are very similar to the stone heads you find in Celtic countries: sinister, half- eroded visages protruding from the grass. Also several kurgans, or barrows. Wreathed in mist, with a pine-shrouded view to the river below, you could have been in Scotland - the place of which the Altai is most reminiscent, for me.

Maria made me lie on a large wet rock but did not say why. Paranoid as ever, I suspected it might be something to do with fertility and removed myself, fast. It turned out to be for fertility and general gynaecological health. Well, okay for the latter. Here, a common phenomenon took place: flash four wheel drives screeching to a halt at the glimpse of Maria's official hat. Clearly, she has found a niche in her profession - the demand was considerable. Not only is it a hard row to plough, in that she's always on call and won't turn anyone away (and she does not insist on payment, BTW), but it's also potentially dangerous. The previous generation of shamans were executed by the KGB, who would send in a team to inscribe, with meticulous care, the nature of shamanic practices and then either send the shamans to the gulag, or have them shot. So there's lots of notes about the tradition, but little continuity. Maria is also a Christian, and that wasn't exactly popular, either.

In the evening Ivan appeared to light the stove and could have done so with his breath. Told him that this would not be required, but he stood for some time, in the swaying, repetitive phase of being pissed. Eventually I got rid of him, as nicely as possible. We spent a cooler night.

Tuesday 5th August

Picnic again, by the side of a very turbulent stream, via the local post office. There are those of you to whom postcards are en route, but God only knows when they'll reach Britain. More beautiful butterflies, which alighted upon us and fanned their wings. The discovery that they actually ignore the local flowers and settle instead on piles of horse shit dampened our enthusiasm somewhat and was not flattering.

Maria told us about the Ice Princess who, she says, summoned her to Novosibirsk. The deal goes like this: Maria spends a small fortune getting 400 miles from Yst Khan to Nov. She spends some time in the Archaeological Inst becoming, basically, possessed by one of the nine parts of the dead woman's soul (the Inst has said this is fine by them, BTW). She then carries it back, and once it hits the Altai, it dissipates. She has now done this twice. But the Princess wants to go back in body, and has threatened dire consequences (for the entire planet) if she doesn't go back into her grave. Well, who knows?

Got back to find the hotel complex invaded by the President of the Altai Republic and assorted minders. Dinner was late and dreadful.

Wednesday 5th August

Returned to Yst Khan to drop Maria off, then drove to Chemal (a 12 hour day). This time, we stayed in a place called Cheposh, which is a short distance down the road. Again, very good food: fish, potatoes, salads. Everyone by this time shattered.

Thursday 6th August

This morning we were offered the choice of shopping or caves. Those of a sensitive disposition chose caves and shopping, the rest of us, just shopping. This turned out to be a craft market, and a long row of stalls. Lots of tat, but also some rather nice wooden stuff - and books. In English and Russian! The inhabitants of the bus descended on the stalls like a pack of wolves, elbowing dilatory Muscovites out of the way, and combat shopped until lunch. I am now the proud owner of a small stuffed shaman and a very nice book on the Altai.

In the p.m. I went for a long walk along the river with our resident doctor, Sasha, who is very much in the vague, space cadet tradition of Russian mystics and who has invented some kind of biowave therapy which he explained to me, but which I still don't understand. He gave everyone a haematite bracelet, which does something or other. We speculated that at some point in the future, this may enable Sasha to activate us, in which case we will all rise like zombies and head back to Siberia. His co-practitioner, Tania, did some form of hands-on healing to a kink in my back and blimey, she's cured it, despite a further 24 hours in planes, buses and cars. Tania herself is interesting: she apparently inherited whatever form of healing power it is from her grandma, and put it to good use after she came close to decapitation in a car crash. She has some truly awful scars, but she's still here and whatever it is, she can pass it on.

Friday 7th August

Back to Novosibirsk. A long and tedious trip. Got into Akademgorod about 6 and went straight to Natasha's, where we all admired the cat (previously, he had been in internal exile at her mum's due to a cat allergy on the part of a group member). Got up again at 3 (urgh) and went to the airport, where we found that the flight was delayed by 2 hours. I went to sleep on a bench and was awoken by Deirdre - and believe me, it is not good to wake up and find that you are not in your bed, but in a crowded Siberian aerodrome. Slept for the flight, as well.

Due to the time difference, we got into Moscow about 8 a.m and went, groggily, to the Kremlin. Here there was much bickering between the group and a tour guide - you can't do the Kremlin without a guide, they have a fixed schedule and we were short of time. The authorities are moreover jittery, since I gather that in our absence, the Chechens blew something up. Eventually Sarah, one of the more assertive group members, brutalised the guide into handing over the tickets and off we marched, with Sarah doing the guide bit whenever a man in uniform with a Kalashnikov appeared (actually, she was a sort of anti-guide - "And on our left, you'll see a large building. I have no idea what it is or when it was built, but it's got a gold thing on top so it's probably a church").

The Kremlin complex has several cathedrals, the parliament building, a theatre and lots more. Moscow's ancient fortress, girded by blood-red walls, it is enormous. The cathedrals were cavernous and echoing, filled with icons and centuries of incense smoke. On the way out, it suddenly poured with rain. Damp and disconsolate, we retreated to a pizza parlour opposite and negotiated the Combination Dinner, which came only with coke which I never touch, and then returned to the bus. Red Square is, alas, closed until September and the lower half of fairy tale St Basil's is wreathed in scaffolding. Moscow, however, looks very much on the up - as did Siberia. Lots of nice new houses being built (and the Siberians, in particular, seem to be going in for a form of Medieval whimsy: we saw several small castles. Probably a reaction to dull functionalist architecture).

Got back to find Britain sweltering in a heatwave. Grim. Deirdre and I had such a boring saga at Heathrow that I won't repeat it here - suffice to say that we spent nearly 2 hours getting out of Terminal 4, to find delayed or non existent buses. Eventually we caught a bus to Brighton that went all the way back to - you've guessed it - Terminal 4. My threat to kill myself if this happened went unheeded. Got into Brighton at 10.30 pm, four and a half hours after the flight arrived, to find the town in party mode in honour of Gay Pride. Very un-Soviet. Despite the heat, it's good to be back.

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Jay Caselberg
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 08:45 am:   

Sounds like a wonderful trip. Hope you took lots and lots of notes and are, accordingly, going to write up a storm. Perhaps you can conjure one at the same time...
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Liz Williams
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 08:55 am:   

Lots and lots duly taken and you know, as well as a number of short story ideas, I now have the opening scenes for the sequel to 9 Layers. Which will be written as soon as I've finished this current book and er, the one after that. Good to be ahead, however.

>Perhaps you can conjure one at the same >time...

*holding breath and screwing up fingers* - I'm trying, I'm trying. The skies have darkened over Brigthon and there have been a few spots of rain in the last couple of minutes. I'll send it your way, shall I?
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Dennis McCunney
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 12:30 pm:   

Random trip notes comments:

As it happens, there is a Nicholas Roerich Museaum in New York City. See http://www.roerich.org/ for information.

And it appears that all of Roerich's art is available online and my be downloaded from http://www.sangha.net/roerich/art.htm

Exactly when was Chornos Gurkin murdered? If this was during Stalin's purges, there may have been no reason at all. Old Joe was nuts, and the rest of the country took its cues from him. I've seen speculations that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of more Russians than _anything_ else, and the total toll was even higher than the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. (See Roy Medvedev's _Let History Judge_ as a starting point.)

The bit about the Ice Pricess and her attempts to return in stages would make the basis of a _wonderful_ story.

Thanks for some lovely stories.

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Liz Williams
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 01:03 pm:   

Ah, thanks for these links, Dennis - i'll check them out.

Not quite sure when CG met his end, but you're right - a lot of people met the same fate. Dreadful stuff.

Colin Thubron's IN SIBERIA has some horrifying stats, and it's very well written - alas, he is a miserable sod, though.
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Stephen Gallagher
Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 01:54 pm:   

No huskies? Damn.
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Posted on Sunday, August 10, 2003 - 05:30 pm:   

Sounds lovely! Now I want to visit Siberia too . . . but I will stay clear of those damned suspension bridges! And with the heatwave Europe is currently baking in, Siberia seems all the more a pleasant prospect. We had 47.3ºC (that's 117ºF or some such) in Portugal last week, so I could really use some ice for a change.

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Liz Williams
Posted on Monday, August 11, 2003 - 01:11 am:   

God, that's just a silly temperature. We're just about to have a thunderstorm here. Yay!

And no huskies but plenty of husky-like dogs with curly tails. Most of the animals we saw seemed very well cared for, which makes a change.
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Posted on Monday, August 11, 2003 - 03:57 am:   

You know, I was looking at the European weather chart this morning and envying the thick cluster of clouds currently over the UK. We've had the occasional thunderstorm too, but there's no rain, the air here is as dry as a water biscuit.


PS: by the way, I bought THE POISON MASTER the other day, I look forward to reading it now!
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Posted on Monday, August 11, 2003 - 08:59 am:   

Sounds like an absolutely spectacular trip. I am avocado colored with envy. There is now yet another part of the world I desperately want to visit.

Siberia used to be on my list when favorite Russian lunatic Alexander Lebed ruled Krasnoyarsk, but since his death Siberia has receded a little.

You have bumped it back up.
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Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 09:27 am:   

Excellent stuff, Liz! Glad you're back safe!

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KJ Bishop
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 10:59 am:   

Great tale! I'd like to read about more of your adventures abroad, Liz.

(I'm off to Thailand in a couple of days, and THE POISON MASTER is coming with me).
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Liz Williams
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2003 - 11:16 am:   

Have fun in Thailand! I hope immigration lets Poison Master into the country. I wouldn't, if I were them.

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